Greg and I began our seven-hour drive north on the N3 highway that expands Durban to Johannesburg with the African sun warming our vehicle despite the crisp weather of early spring. In recent years, together and alone on our long drives, I enjoy reading aloud as we go. Greg and I share a wide range of interests; recently we’ve read such books as Long Walk to Freedom, by Nelson Mandela and Paul, Women & Wives, by Craig Keener. As we settled into this journey, we looked forward to beginning our next opus: The People’s Zion. This book, by Joel Cabrita, is a historical account of Zionism. It’s not about a national movement seeking a Jewish homeland in Israel, but rather the religious movement that began in our own homeland of Illinois, and what Joel calls Zion’s “transatlantic story.” We anticipate an exposition of the beginnings, and reasons, our ministry exists. I’d like to tell you more and will, possibly even again, as time goes on.
Raised in Swaziland, the author, Joel Cabrita has committed her life to a growing understanding of African beliefs. Dr. Cabrita was a University Lecturer in World Christianities at Cambridge University (see note below), specializing in the development of African religions. Dr. Cabrita was commissioned by the university to compile research for what has become, The People’s Zion, Southern Africa, the United States, and a Transatlantic Faith-Healing Movement. We met Joel in Zion for a discussion over lunch, in July of 2012. At that time Joel had just begun her research for this project.
Since then she has spent considerable time on several continents, with Zionists. Living at Sunbury for a week, relocating again to Southern Africa for two years, and traveling regularly to those places unfolded by her research, Joel has ascertained testimony from “Zionists” of both North American and African descent.
Consoled by what promised to be a worthwhile account of Zion’s history, Greg and I settled into the story and our long drive ahead. Chuckling through a bit of Cambridge-like language, at the end of the twenty-four-page introduction, Greg smiled. “So that’s what we’ve been doing all these years!”
Says Dr. Cabrita, “three enduring features of transatlantic Zion are nonetheless discernible. First, Zionists on both sides of the Atlantic have first and foremost been egalitarians, propelled by the belief that all Christians are equal regardless of status, and committed to attacking and bringing down hierarchies of all kinds. Zionists argued that ministers, clerics, and other specialized experts occupy no privileged position in the Kingdom of God.” Secondly, Zionists are reformers, “…their endless propensity for dissent, criticism, and rebellion against established ways of being religious …springs from the heartfelt zeal that characterized their faith.” Quoting Alec Ryrie, “from the beginning, a love affair with God has been at the heart of [Protestant’s] faith.” (2017, p.1). Finally, “Zionists in both the United States and Southern Africa were cosmopolitans who rejected the notion that humanity could be divided up according to race, nationality, or language…drawing on a long tradition of Christian thought … that presented the church as a template for a redeemed society unified under God and across biological and social differences.”
Note: This past June Sanford University’s, Centre for African Studies announced that Joel would be joining their faculty in the fall semester of 2018.